Beach hideaways in Asia
First published 11th December, 2007
December arrives and with it peak season. Guesthouses fill up, train tickets get harder to find and, of course, cheap airline seats vanish. Simultaneously, traveller message boards across the web light up with people asking after unspoilt beaches, deserted valleys and pristine hideaways. So here's the scoop -- here at Travelfish we'll be sharing a few of our favourites -- pointing you in the right direction to find some of those unspoilt beaches, deserted valleys and pristine hideaways. Lets start off with some strips of sand to keep you sane.
Ko Yao Noi, Ko Yao Yai
We've been raving about Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai for a year or so and we'll be doing it for a few more years yet. These twin hideaways, in the northern reaches of the Gulf of Phuket, are spectacular. Pros include fine beaches and good swimming, a very local, unadulterated feel and terrific, old-style hospitality. There's two main cons -- firstly, some of the beaches aren't swimmable at low tide due to their rocky base; secondly the Evason just opened on Ko Yao Yai, and with rates of up to US$18,000 per night, you better be sure to find a room elsewhere! If you're after a true beach holiday and require little in the way of creature comforts, these two islands should be on your shortlist.
Ko Lao Liang
Lao Liang is part of the Ko Petra National Park and actually two islands (Lao Liang North and Lao Liang South), here's you'll find particularly splendid beaches and coral -- partly due to the fact that for years nobody was able to visit, nor overnight, on the islands. That all changed a few years back, and Lao Liang is now a destination on many people's lips. Accommodation is in the form of large, multiple room tents and all bathroom facilities are shared. While the one place to stay is "organised tour" focused, independent travellers are also welcome.
Bang Saphan Yai
Everyone knows about Hua Hin, but you don't have to stray all that much further to reach spots like Bang Saphan Yai, which many a wandering soul has described as being like Samui in the 70s. While we'd say the Samui claim is over the top, Bang Saphan remains a terrific area for those looking for a dose of sleepy time by the sea. It attracts a refreshing mix of Thais, foreign tourists and expats, so you'll feel like less of a tourist and the costs reflect this. The heavy-grained yellow sanded beach may have white-sand snobs turning their nose up, but for the rest of us, the beach is lovely, backing onto palm plantations for much of its length. There's good swimming offshore and a couple of islands that can sometimes be visited on day trips.
Ko Taen, Ko Samui
Many consider the terms "Ko Samui" and "unspoilt beaches" mutually exclusive, but that's not the case. Lying just off the south coast you'll find the oft-forgotten island of Ko Taen. It's home to some traveller-orientated bungalows, some fine beach and snorkelling and even some budding eco-tourism distractions. But best of all there's not a nightclub nor tailor shop in sight. To get there, catch the boat from Thong Krut on Ko Samui's south coast -- there's a couple of boats a day.
Pak Nam Beach, Ko Phi Phi
Like Samui, Phi Phi is right up there when it comes to overdeveloped tourist disaster areas, but it's not all bad. Over on the island's east bank -- a world away from the toxic mayhem of Ton Sai and Loh Dalam -- you'll find the lovely Pak Nam Beach and the oh-so-aptly named Relax Beach Resort. This place is good -- real good -- so good in fact it's already full for much of December and January... but if you're coming later, keep it in mind, or head south to our other Phi Phi fave, Ao To Koh.
If you've ever caught the ferry from Ko Kong to Sihanoukville, then you've been within a few feet of Ko S'dach, as it's here that the boat stops to load and upload goods -- and passengers. There's one guesthouse on the island, a handful of places to eat and a rip-roaring karaoke bar -- that's about the island in a nutshell. There's also a couple of great little beaches on Ko S'dach itself and some simply glorious beaches on the surrounding islands and mainland (opposite the village on Ko S'dach). You can get from island to island by hiring a boatman at the village to take you around for the day -- or drop you off at another island, picking you up later on. It's a very laid-back, conservative spot, but if you're in the market for some seriously sleepy beach time, Ko S'dach could be what you're after.
No karaoke, no motorbikes, no noise, no problem. Ok, so the British daily, The Guardian recently featured Ko Tonsay, but we seriously doubt the hordes will be there just yet. Accommodation is nothing more than a very basic thatch hut. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are about fifty metres offshore -- live crabs in crab-pots -- you wade out and pick which ones you want (ok maybe not for breakfast). Come nightfall, swim in brilliant phosphorescence and under a clear starry sky. If you're out to forgo all the bells and whistles and want nothing more than a hammock, a roof and a crab pot, then Ko Tonsay is where it's at.
Cam Ranh Bay
Do you want to go where no Speedo has gone before? Travellers have been keeping an eye on Cam Ranh Bay as a possible future destination for years now, and it's easy to see why. It's a magnificent, absolutely enormous bay, filled with turquoise waters and rimmed with green hills -- considered to be one of the finest deep-water harbours in the world. And while locals -- obviously not of the sunbaking variety -- long ago dug fish farms into many of the bay's beaches, they're left more than enough for you and me. Most are on a peninsula jutting into the bay and they're completely unspoiled and absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The water is clear and clean, becoming a shimmering turquoise in the bright sun, and the sand is fine and almost white. What's more, but for the fisherman and the locals who make their way here for a dip in the late afternoon, no one uses the beach... Nobody. Best reached on a day-trip from Nha Trang by motorcycle. Accommodation is available in Cam Ranh.
Phu Quoc Island
The secret's very much out of the bag when it comes to Phu Quoc, but it's still far from becoming over-touristed. We've seen many an island in Southeast Asia, and we've never stumbled across somewhere quite like this one. The mix of isolated, totally deserted beaches and a few thriving yet unadulterated Vietnamese towns, make Phu Quoc a rare find indeed. Ringed by over a dozen bays and beaches -- some yellow sand, others brilliant strips of white sand, with an archipelago of islets off its south coast, a jungle covered interior and a handful of fishing villages, there is enough to do for a longer stay than you may be planning. Some do nothing more than the daily bungalow-beach-restaurant-beach-bungalow circuit for days on end, but with a motorbike and a map, there's loads of potential for exploration.
Have you got a favourite island hideaway in Asia? Tell us all about it on the Travelfish messageboard.
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